Fire Safety - The Landlord's Responsibilities under the Housing Act 2004

The law relating to fire safety in residential premises is governed by the following statutes:

  • The Housing Act 2004
  • The Regulatory (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (“FSO”).
  • The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (“the FFSR”)

The Housing Act 2004 introduced the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (“HHSRH”) which is an assessment scheme used by the local authorities to assess the likely hazards present within a residential property. 

The FSO imposes a duty on those providing housing, including landlords of HMOs and other properties where there are common parts (being parts of the property which are used by all the tenants within the building an example could be a communal hallway).

The FFSR relates to the Furniture provided by the landlord within furnished residential properties.

In this article, being Part I, we will cover the law relating to fire safety within the Housing Act 2004 and in Part II we will cover the Regulatory (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and in Part III we will cover the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988.

The Housing Act 2004- and Housing Health and Safety Rating System (“HHSRH”)

Within the HHSRH 29 categories of potential hazards within the property are assessed. A fire hazard is numbered hazard 24.  

When carrying out an HHSRH assessment in respect of fire risk, the local authority will be assessing the property under the following criteria:

  • Potential for harm from fire (the potential for a fire to run out of control and associated risks to health from smoke)
  • Causes of fire (potential sources of fire take into account various dwelling features and human behaviour)
  • Preventative measures (fire alarms, fire escapes, sprinkler systems, extinguishers and so on)

For multi-occupied buildings (including Houses of Multiple Occupation) the assessment is made for each individual dwelling within the building and its associated shared rooms and areas, it’s access and escape routes.  The assessment is not made in respect of the whole of the building because each dwelling (bedsit or flat) may have a differing hazard profiles for example, a bedsit on the ground floor will present less of a fire hazard than a bedsit on the top floor as the ground floor bedsit will have a shorter escape route than the top floor bedsit.  When inspecting property the inspector will judge each hazard according to 10 bands (A to J) with band J being the safest band  and A being the most dangerous.   

Where property is found to have fire hazards which is identified to be in bands A B or C it is classed as category 1 under the HHSRH criteria and the local authority has a statutory duty to bring enforcement action under Section 5 of the Housing Act 2004.

When the property is found to have fire hazards identified to be in band’s D-J it is classed as category 2 under the HHSRH criteria which means that the local authority has a power to take enforcement action but is not under a duty to do so (section 7 of the Housing Act 2004).

The enforcement options available to the local authority are as follows:

  • To serve an improvement notice requiring of the landlord to carry out works to remedy the fire hazard.
  • To make a prohibition order which will prohibit use of part or all of the premises from various specified purposes (this may in extreme cases mean that the landlord can no longer let property to tenants until the hazard is remedied to the satisfaction of the local authority).
  • To serve a hazard awareness notice this is advisory and mainly notifies the landlord of the need of improvements
  • Demolition. This is rarely used and will only apply where the fire hazards are either too numerous or too extreme in nature to be remedied and the building constitutes a hazard to people generally.
  • Emergency remedial action. This is where the local authority considered a hazard to be urgent and the risk to tenants is imminent. The local authority can then take the remedial action required to remove the hazard and recover the costs of doing so, from the landlord.

Generally notification from the local authority that the property constitutes a fire hazard will be all that is required and the landlord will take appropriate action to reduce the hazard to an acceptable level.   Failure to act on a notification from the local authority that the property constitutes a fire hazards is likely to prejudice the landlord’s position should a tenant make a claim in the courts against the landlord in respect of the fire or if the landlord needs to make a claim under the building insurance in the event of a fire.

Fire Safety Conditions in HMO Licensing

When granting HMO licences the local authority can attach certain conditions regarding fire safety.

When the HMO licence is a mandatory license the local authority must attach the fire safety conditions set down in schedule 4 to the Housing Act 2004 these being as follows:

  1. To ensure that smoke alarms are installed in the house and keep them in proper working order; and
  2. To supply the local authority on demand with a declaration from the landlord as to the condition and positioning of such alarms

Where the HMO licence is a discretionary licence, the local authority does not have a duty to include such conditions but may do so in any event.

The Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006 and The Licensing and Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (Addition Provisions) (England) Regulations 2007 (“the Regulations”) all set down following requirements:

  • All means of escape from fire in the HMO must be kept free from obstruction and maintained in good order and repair.
  • Any firefighting equipment and fire alarms must be kept in good working order.
  • All notices indicating the location a means of fire escape must be clearly displayed and visible to all occupiers of the HMO.
  • The latest gas appliance test certificate (from a Gas Safe registered engineer) must be produced to the local authority within 7 days of the local authority requesting top the same
  • Every fixed electrical installation must be inspected and tested every five years by a qualified electrician

Failure to comply with the regulations is a criminal offence of the Housing Act 2004

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